You’ve got your run of the mill famous personalities – celebrities, tabloid fodder, social media favourites – who earn their paychecks, directly or indirectly, through their huge public profile and the invasion of their privacy that goes along with it. And then you have the more obscure movers and shakers who make all of the celebrities’ fame and fortune possible, the relatively anonymous producers, the writers, A&R representatives, publicists, talent agencies, and executives who are unlikely to be plagued by the paparazzi. The behind-the-scenes players are very often more powerful than their celebrity counterparts – and richer, too.
Of course, with huge influence and wealth it’s inevitable that some of these clever puppeteers garner worldwide recognition. You won’t see them in music videos or starring in the latest superhero flick, but you may well see them on the cover of Time or glittering among fellow stars at fundraising events and movie premiers. Some of the names on this list will pop out immediately, but a few of these rich and powerful personalities have managed to keep a startlingly low profile – it’s these savvy businesspeople who really give us an insight into how the entertainment industry works behind closed doors. The following are 9 of the richest, most powerful players behind the scenes of the entertainment industry in the modern age.
9. Ari Emanuel, Talent Agent: $35 million
Ari Emanuel is the co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor (WME), an entertainment and media agency. As such, he’s considered one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, being described as “the pre-eminent power player” in Hollywood, and a “21st century Hollywood mogul.” He has supposedly “rewritten the Hollywood script,” and is named on Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year list.
Emanuel’s standing in the showbiz industry and his relationships with his clients have led to many parodies and homages over the years, the most famous being that of Ari Gold, the snarky, get-things-done talent agent on HBO’s Entourage, played by Jeremy Piven. Another fun fact? He was the first of the big Hollywood players who, in 2006, called on Hollywood to blacklist Mel Gibson because of Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks.
8. Judd Apatow, Movie Producer: $80 million +
Judd Apatow is currently one of the most well-loved film producers of the 21st century, responsible for some of the funniest and most successful movies and TV shows of his generation. James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Lena Dunham, Jason Segel, Michael Cera and others all have Apatow to thank, at least in part, for their success.
Before becoming famous for producing comedy classics such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is 40, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers he began by developing the cult TV shows like Freaks and Geeks (which, it’s agreed, was canceled too early, but helped Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini and John Francis Daley get their starts). He has helped produce the now-popular comedy-drama Girls, and has even made a couple of on-screen cameos in his films including Anchorman. In 2007 he was ranked #1 on Entertainment Weekly’s Top 50 Smartest People in Hollywood.
7. Bob & Harvey Weinstein, Movie Producers: $150 million
These brothers are best known for founding Miramax Films, and then The Weinstein Company. They are film, play, and musical producers, and have been praised for making independent films financially viable and popular through their work with Miramax. When the brothers left Miramax in 2005 to form their own production company, other media executives followed, such as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Colin Vaines.
Harvey Weinstein has been criticized for his business dealings, bullying, and tough-on-movie approach towards editing, cutting, and producing. He gained a reputation for ruthlessness and bouts of anger. Despite the reputation, the effect that the Weinstein brothers have had on modern independent and Hollywood film cannot be denied, producing such films as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, Scary Movie, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Kill Bill, Sin City, Inglourious Basterds, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Django Unchained, and more.
6. Peter Chernin, Media Executive and Investor: $150 million
Peter Chernin is Chairman and CEO of The Chernin Group (TCG), founded in 2009, which manages and invests in businesses in the entertainment, media, and technology sectors. The company focuses on developing premium content for movies and TV, investing in technology and media companies, and capitalizing on business opportunities in emerging markets. Before starting TCG, Chernin was the President and COO of News Corporation from 1996-2009.
Under his leadership, Twentieth Century Fox Film produced the two top-grossing movies of all time: Avatar and Titanic. Chernin invested in and sits on the board of several media companies, including Pandora, Tumblr, Twitter, and American Express. Although keeping a relatively low public profile, Chernin is widely considered one of the most powerful media executives in the world.
5. Max Martin, Music Producer: $250 million
This relatively unknown Swedish music producer and hit-maker is very well established in our pop music culture, and for good reason. Whether you know the name or not, Max Martin is responsible for (what seems like) every hit pop song that has come in the past 15 years. He rose to prominence in the mid-90s after crafting a string of hits for the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and ‘N Sync, including writing the songs “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, “I Want It That Way”, “Oops!… I Did It Again”, and “It’s My Life.”
Since then, Martin has written and co-written 17 Billboard number-one hits, most of which he also produced, including hits for Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber… This list goes on, and on. It is said that his Midas Touch of hit-making has made him responsible for more Billboard singles than Michael Jackson and Madonna combined, making Martin one of the most noteworthy anonymous celebrities (an oxymoron, sure, but one that’s oddly applicable here) on the planet.
4. Lorne Michaels, TV Producer: $350 million
Okay, this one might not be very obscure – if you’ve watched any TV in the past 40 years, you know who Lorne Michaels is: the creator of Saturday Night Live. The popular Saturday night live comedy show is responsible for creating more stars than almost any other show in history, and that’s all thanks to Lorne. He has the final say in any sketch, and as such he wields all the power. This man can literally make or break you in a matter of minutes.
He is also the producer for NBC’s Late Night, executive producer for popular sitcom 30 Rock, and took over as executive producer for The Tonight Show in 2013 (and subsequently The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon). SNL is responsible for the stardom seen by such actors as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Dana Carvey, and Robert Downey Jr., in the old years. In more recent years, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Norm MacDonald, Jason Sudeikis, and many more all owe their breakthrough careers to SNL, and Lorne Michaels.
3. Rick Rubin, Music Producer: $400 million
This list could include music producing legends such as George Martin (The Beatles) or Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson, Miles Davis), but for the purposes of this list we’ve chosen to incorporate more modern behind-the-scenes legends, and Rick Rubin absolutely personifies that criteria. Rubin helped popularize hip hop music by founding Def Jam Records and signing the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., and Public Enemy. He has one of the most diverse résumes ever, working with acts such as Slayer, Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Slipknot, Linkin Park, AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine, Aerosmith, System of a Down, Mick Jagger, and Adele, to name a few.
Known for his stripped-down sound, his technical skills and his way with a mixing board, Rubin has the innate ability to coax the best from all of his acts, whether they are in the rap, country, pop or metal genres. From 2007 to 2012 he was the co-head of Columbia Records. Producer Dr. Dre once stated that Rick was, “hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever.” He has seven Grammy wins.
2. Simon Fuller, TV Producer: $560 million
Simon Fuller has been credited for creating the most valuable TV format in the world. He’s best known for creating the Idol franchise, first starting in the UK as Pop Idol, and moving on to American Idol in the US. The franchise has been sold to more than 100 countries worldwide. Fuller also co-created and produced the reality shows So You Think You Can Dance, Q’Viva, and others. He is widely known as revolutionizing the modern reality show format, and as such, television watching in general.
After selling his entertainment company to CKX, Inc., and becoming a director of the company, the new position gave him creative control over all of CKX’s assets, including the Elvis Presley Estate and Muhammad Ali’s business interests. American Idol has broken TV records, becoming the most popular entertainment show on US network TV.
Fuller is also certified as the most successful British music manager of all time by Billboard, having produced over 500 number one hit singles and 240 number one albums globally, signing acts such as Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, the Spice Girls, and discovering Amy Winehouse. His interests in music and TV make him one of the most powerful figures in the global entertainment industry.
1. Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Internet Masterminds: $60 billion +
These guys, of course, created Google. There isn’t much more that needs to be said, but here goes. While Google isn’t exactly an “entertainment” site, the search engine has revolutionized and changed the way businesses, economies, marketing, technology, and the world in general operate. Googling is now a household verb in our modern lexicon. Indeed, it isn’t overstating the fact to say that if a website doesn’t exist on Google’s search engine then it may as well not exist.
The two are worth a combined total of over $60 billion, and they own approximately 16% of Google’s stock. The search engine giant gains most of its profits from its game-changing advertising service, AdWords. Google has such a monopoly on the global landscape of business and advertising, that a single line change in their algorithm, or a simple change in rules and regulations, can make or break billion-dollar companies and small businesses overnight. And it has happened, time and time again.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin wield this power with impunity, able to change the global landscape of advertising and marketing on a whim. Despite the fact that they are inarguably two of the most powerful men in the world today, they aren’t the headline-seeking sorts like some of their contemporaries (Mark Zuckerberg, we’re looking at you). Larry Page and Sergey Brin are two of the most powerful – and by far the richest – behind-the-scenes, low-profile operators in history.